The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism - Chapter 19: Religiousness and meaning making following stressful life events

Elsevier, The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism 2020, Pages 273-285
Crystal L. Park

This chapter focuses on the role of religiousness in meaning making following stressful life events. First, we discuss the components of the meaning making model, including both global (broad beliefs and general goals and values) and situational (appraisals of a specific instance) levels of meaning. Stressful life events occur when people appraise the meaning of a particular situation (e.g., diagnosis of serious illness) as discrepant with their global meaning system (e.g., that God is loving and protective). Discrepancies represent threats to one’s global meaning system, which creates distress. Distress, in turn, motivates efforts to reduce discrepancy, a process of meaning making. Meaning making efforts are often of a religious or spiritual nature and involve changing one’s understood-meaning of the stressor to assimilate it into one’s global meaning system (e.g., appraising it as a test of one’s devotion) or changing one’s global meaning system to improve its fit with the specific stressor (e.g., revising one’s image of God). This process of making meaning can lead to meaning made, which are changes in either (or both) appraised meaning of the stressor or changes in one’s beliefs and goals. Meaning making can lead to better adjustment to the stressor when coherence in meaning systems is restored, but protracted meaning making efforts can devolve into maladaptive rumination with poor outlooks for physical health and psychological well-being.